The latest, and presumably “final”, film b legendary filmmaker John Boorman, Queen & Country is the long-awaited semi-sequel to Hope & Glory. Set in 1952, the central character of Bill Rohan (Callum Turner), who previously took childish pleasure in his school being bombed, is now doing national service for the Korean War alongside his rebellious comrade, Percy Hapgood (Caleb Landry Jones). Along the way, their friendship becomes challenged, psychological wars break out between fellow soldiers, and Bill undergoes a rite of passage, not just with the army, but also in the prospects of romance when he obsessively falls for suicidal toff “Ophelia” (Tamsin Egerton).
This is a story that is obviously very personal to John Boorman, being heavily inspired by many events that have happened in his own life, and it is pretty much everything you would expect from him. The film is visually arresting, the story is very heartfelt and rich with nostalgia, features a melange of conflicting accents and some peculiarly theatrical staging involved. This is a very old-fashioned film in some ways, yet this is one of those films that hark back to the old days of moviemaking, as symbolised by the film’s moving final shot.
Boorman is someone who has had an extraordinary career with many great highs (Deliverance and Point Blank) and many unforgettable lows (Exorcist II: The Heretic and Zardoz), but in the case of this, it’s oddly gentle in some ways. There is a dark subversive undercurrent about being involved in the national service and what it must’ve been like, and when you watch the film you do feel the personal vision that’s in it. Most of the actors involved do give solid performances: the louche Richard E. Grant is brilliantly deadpan, David Thewlis chewing the scenery as ever, Callum Turner being a likeable lead, and Vanessa Kirby is brilliantly witty as Bill’s rebellious sister.
However, despite the care and attention that’s been put into this film, one can’t help but feel disjointed and uncertain about it. Some situations occur abruptly out of nowhere and some of the performances can be quite alienating, particularly American actor Caleb Landry Jones, whose portrayal of an unstable Brit with a fire-branded temper is more associated with that of a blood-vessel-busting whiner. Also, Tamsin Egerton gives a cold performance that makes us less sympathetic towards her mentally suicidal loner, yet it’s not entirely Egerton’s fault, but to due with what she’s been given to work with, which is a shame considering how great an actress she is in 18.104.22.168., Chalet Girl and TV’s Camelot.
There’s a strange theatricality to John Boorman’s work, as it always has been, which is a disjunction sometimes between the visuals and the sound, and it’s primarily Boorman’s own distinctive flair of theatricality. It’s a distinctive vision by a director who has earned the right to make the film he wants to make, even though that film is quite alienating at times and emotionally disconnecting. It is a shame it’s not as masterful as it should’ve been, yet Boorman is someone that has somehow able to turn flaws into significant strengths, and that is something he’ll always be famous for.
QUEEN & COUNTRY / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: JOHN BOORMAN / STARRING: CALLUM TURNER, CALEB LANDRY JONES, PAT SHORTT, TAMSIN EGERTON, RICHARD E. GRANT / RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 24TH